shape shape
  galmenu1.gif   galmenu2.gif next.gif
      Waterssmspace.gifWaterssmspace.gifWaterssmspace.gifWaters
       
      waters.gif
 
Ethel Waters
Ethel Waters
n.d.
James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection

 

galspace.gif

A wildly popular singer and actress in her time, today Ethel Waters is celebrated as a true groundbreaker—she was the first African American to perform live on radio, star with an all-white cast on Broadway, and perform in the South with white co-stars. At the height of her career she was the best-paid woman performing on Broadway. A native of Chester, Pennsylvania, as a young woman Waters joined a Southern stage show as “Sweet Mama Stringbean.” She soon moved to New York where she quickly developed a loyal following among both the white patrons of Harlem’s upscale clubs and other African-American performers. Her talents were also well suited to the stage; audiences loved her energetic performances, her distinctive smile, and, of course, her singing. Of her role in Mamba’s Daughters, New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson wrote, “give her at any time a gutsy song and she could melt a frigid audience into complete malleability. Now . . . she proves that she can carry over into a play that same power of reducing an audience to a state of fervent admiration.”1 Waters was also a respected actress. In 1949, her performance in the film Pinky earned her an Academy Award nomination; she received a second nomination for her role in Member of the Wedding in 1952.

1 Brooks Atkinson, “Concerning Mamba’s Waters,” New York Times, 15 Jan. 1939.

 

 

shape shape
home | gallery index | Beinecke |